• Frank Haight: St. Pat's Parade marches on

  • After attending his first St. Patrick’s Day parade in Kansas City some 10 years ago, Les Wight yearned for a scaled-down celebration in Independence where he practices law.

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  • After attending his first St. Patrick’s Day parade in Kansas City some 10 years ago, Les Wight yearned for a scaled-down celebration in Independence where he practices law.
    As far as he knew, there was no parade of any kind in Harry Truman’s hometown to celebrate the Irish holiday; nor had there ever been one. But why not?
    The proud Scott-Irishman pondered the question. Then in 2004, took the proverbial bull by the horns and organized the first St. Patrick’s Day parade in Independence that, in no way, resembles the Kansas City “spectacle.”
    “The parade started out somewhat as a lark when I decided there ought to be a parade,” says Les, recalling having to walk a mile to see the long parade amid thousands of spectators – some of whom were rude and rowdy – was appalling to him.
    “It was trashy. It was loud. It was long,” he says of the parade. “And all I could do was be a bystander.”
    When spectators line the one-mile parade route that winds through Independence Square Saturday afternoon, they’ll experience what Les calls a “real parade” where paradegoers are part of the festivities and can be part of the procession toward the end of the parade.
    “And it is this kind of organism that grows, and you are a part of (the parade) as opposed to being a bystander,” he says. “I think the small town and the size of it is so much more fun and satisfying than watching a big parade. This one is something you are a part of.”
    Just like 91-year-old William “Bill” Burks, a World War II veteran who fought in the D-Day invasion of Normandy as a private first class under the command of Gen. George Patton. Firing “a little gun” in a half-track, Burks fought all the way from Normandy Beach to Berlin and lived to tell about it.
    That’s his story, Les says, and in his honor, the Independence resident is going to be riding in the parade as “an honoree to all of our veterans,” Les says.
    Burks, though, isn’t the only honoree in the ninth annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Newlyweds Carrie Ballinger and Daniel Letcher will be waving to well-wishers from their decorated pickup following their “Irish wedding” at the Jackson County Shrine building, 120 S. Pleasant St., just west of the Square.
    “They are doing that with the whole concept of benefiting CAPA,” Les says, noting the Child Abuse Prevention Association is the benefactor of this year’s annual parade. Last year, the parade raised $1,700 for CAPA, whose mission is to “prevent and treat all forms of child abuse by creating changes in individuals, families and society that strengthens relationships and promotes healing.”
    “They want to have something memorable,” he says of the Excelsior Springs couple, “and they want to be part of the celebration of CAPA, so they will be getting married at 2 o’clock.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Regardless of the weather, “The wedding must go on,” Les says. “If it is good weather, it will be outside ... and if it’s bad weather, it will be inside the Shrine building.” The public is invited to come early for the Shriners’ corned beef and cabbage fundraising dinner, then stay for the wedding.
    Les owes the Shriners a ton of gratitude for coming to his rescue and allowing the Irish parade to assemble in the spacious parking lot behind their building.
    He had every intention of using the parking lot at the nearby Truman Memorial Building as a staging area, but there was one big snafu: The lot was reserved for a business college graduation ceremony that afternoon.
    Thanks to the Shriners, “We have found a new (parade) home,” Les says, “and it appears like it is going to be a permanent home and one that should work out real good.”
    Though the parade has had its up and downs since its inception – with Les losing many major sponsors – he’s never considered throwing in the towel.
    “I just (decided) that (the parade) isn’t worth worrying about; it will happen or it won’t. And it has always happened.”
    And for that, Les is thankful.
    “I think (the parade) is a good way for people to feel (like) a community, and whether anybody claims to be Irish or not is not important,” he says. “But I think it is important to be a community ... and to some degree, it helps to have a nice group like CAPA to have some benefit and to get their word and goal out to the community.”
    With Donna Pitman of KMBC-TV, Channel 9, as grand marshal, the parade will exit the Shrine parking lot, turn north on Pleasant Street to Maple Avenue, east on Maple to Main Street, south on Main to Lexington Avenue, west on Lexington and back to the parking lot.
    The parade is open to everyone – with or without costume. As for the fee, it’s whatever one feels led to give.
    Says Les: “We are very inclusive and aren’t going to turn anyone away. ...“Just show up” between noon and 2 p.m. However, if you plan to attend the wedding, he suggests arriving before 2 p.m.
    Les urges everyone to don Irish attire Saturday and attend the parade, which he believes “is so much grass-roots rather than a big, organized deal.”
    For more information about the parade or CAPA, call Les at 589-4000.
    Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.

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